“Surprised by prayer” Luke 18:1-8

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.”” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

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Grace to you and peace from God or Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!

Our today’s Gospel reading invites us to reflect on prayer. But before we do that, we need to have a little context. As the Holy Spirit has guided Luke to recorded Jesus’ words, we can see that they were not said in a vacuum.

Jesus was asked and He was speaking about the Kingdom of God. And in the context of speaking about the Kingdom of God Jesus encourages us to pray always and also tells this strange parable about the Unjust Judge.

Now, the Kingdom of God. Or as some suggest that better translation would be the Reign of God. When we hear the word “kingdom”, I think that the image that may appear in our minds is that of some sort of political entity, something you can depict on a map. Something with geographical boundaries.

But when we speak about the Reign of God, then it is clear that we are not talking about some political entity with its land and borders, we are talking about God’s power at work among us, moving ahead to accomplish His plans.

John the Baptism came proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is at hand, meaning, very close to us. The Pharisees then asked Jesus when the kingdom of God would come, and Jesus answered them and explained:

“The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” The Reign of God among us has begun.

The Reign of God has begun … and, surely, we can experience it. We can experience the transforming power of the Triune God in our lives. And we can see how the Holy Spirit works in lives of God’s beloved people.

Sometimes the Reign of God comes as the experience of peace that surpasses all our understanding. When in the midst of our troubled lives, even in the midst of sufferings and challenges God’s presence allows us to dwell in peace, trusting that we are safe in the hands of our gracious Father.

Sometimes it comes as supreme joy, when our God speaks to us and when His Spirit helps us to comprehend how closely He is involved in our lives and how much He cares for us from day to day, how precious we are to the Father.

Sometimes God’s Reign can come wildly as tornado, turning our lives upside down and taking us into incredible adventures that we couldn’t dream about on our own. Sometimes it comes as experience of love and affection, when the Triune God embraces us with His Spirit and fills us with the divine hope.

Sometimes it comes as the power that enables us to serve others selflessly, loving others more than ourselves, or as the power that enables us to stand for what is true and right and beautiful even when facing danger and rejection.

It is true that we can experience the Reign of God in many different ways. But it is not only about the extraordinary. God’s Kingdom comes also and especially in very ordinary ways: when our God keeps speaking to us in His Word, in His book and through His people, through you.

As He keeps calling and gathering His chosen in His presence every week, year after year, century after century, millennia after millennia. The Kingdom comes when holy God dwells among His people here in the Divine Service – when the Triune God comes to be with you, to bless you, to restore you, to comfort you, to make you wise and to lead you to life eternal.

The Kingdom comes as He keeps changing our hearts, as He keeps embracing us in the divine fellowship with the Father and the Son, as He keeps growing and expanding His Kingdom every day. And it will continue until all God’s people are called into His family.

As Jesus said, the Kingdom of God is among us. But for now, it is hidden. We can experience its transforming power, sure, but we cannot say: “Look it is there!” Until the day comes, when everything will be revealed.

When the Triune God will fulfill all His promises, will destroy all the evil, and will restore the goodness of His entire creation. When holy God will again dwell with His people and when we will see Him as He is.

But before that happens, Jesus warns us that His Reign will not be welcomed in this world. That the same will be true about His people. They we will always be as the strangers in this world. Rejected, and looked down.

That things may often seem bleak and hopeless for God’s people. When culture puts pressure on us, when congregations age and are closed, when people fall from their faith in droves, when division occur in our families, and when there seems to be a little few reasons left for joy.

Then, Jesus says not to lose our heart and to keep praying for His Kingdom, and He tells this strange parable. It actually isn’t that strange. He tells the story of this Unjust Judge, who didn’t fear God and didn’t respect people.

What a character! It seems that he was invincible in the hardness of his heart. For invoking God’s justice wouldn’t bother him, and he didn’t care about what people thought about him. How do you even influence person like that?

Especially if he has so much power in his hands. Basically, you can’t. But even is such hopeless situation, the widow, one on the lowest in the power hierarchy on the Ancient Near East, even then with her persistence she managed to get not only his attention, but also a favorable verdict.

What is Jesus telling us? That God is like this judge? But that we still have some hope to change His mind? Not at all… Jesus uses this illustration which is called from the smallest to the largest. The point that Jesus is making is this.

If even such unjust person eventually hears the plea and delivers what he is asked for, then how much more our gracious Father in heaven will hear your prayers and respond to them. Therefore, pray always for the Reign of God to come among us. Seek first the Kingdom of God … and what else you may need, will be added to you. (Mt 6:33)

Jesus even teaches and models for us how to pray. He gives us His own prayer. That’s why we call it the Lord’s Prayer. And we have also this beautiful explanation from Martin Luther, for what each part of the Lord’s Prayer means.

Our Father in heaven. God tenderly urge us to believe that He is our true Father, and that we are His true children, so that we may ask Him confidently with all assurance as dear children ask their dear Father.

Hallowed be Your name. God’s name is indeed holy in itself; but we pray that it may become holy among us also. How does it happen? When the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity and we as the children of God also lead holy lives in accordance with it.

Your kingdom come. The kingdom of God comes indeed without our prayer, of itself; but we pray that it may come unto us also. How does it happen? When our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead a godly life here in time and also in eternity.

Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. The good and gracious will of God is done indeed without our prayer; but we pray that it may be done among us also. How is it done? When God breaks and hinders every evil counsel and will which would not let us hallow the name of God nor let His kingdom come; but strengthens and keeps us steadfast in His Word and in faith unto our end.

So simple and so clear. Trust our God as your loving Father. Know that He is holy, that His Kingdom comes, and that His will is done. But then pray that His Word is taught in truth and purity among us, and that we lead holy lives in accordance with it. Pray that the Father gives us His Spirit so that we can believe His Word and that we are able to lead holy lives. Pray that the Father Himself would remove every hindrance that separates us from Him. Pray that all of this happens also among us. But do we actually want this to happen?

The Word taught in its purity? Do we think it is important? What about us leading holy lives? Are we serious about it? What about the Father removing all the obstacles that don’t allow the Kingdom to grow among us? What if His Reign touched our congregations?

What if He brought in new people, different than we, not those whom we know? What if they came asking question, we have never heard, bringing in their excitement and ruining our comfortable routines? Are we up for that?

It is wonderful when any congregation, and even better when the whole church can be united in doing something. There is one such wonderful thing happening right now. Already for a few years there is this LCA wide effort to pray for God’s Reign to come among us, and also to do our part for that to happen.

So that God’s Kingdom would grow among us. We are invited by our bishops to pray that our Father would bless our church and that we would be able to proclaim the Gospel to many and many, and rejoice witnessing how the Holy Spirit changes their lives, fills them with joy and hope, with peace and meaning, with love and courage.

Here is a little story from one of congregations which I visited in Nepal. Two years ago, they prayed for God’s Kingdom to grow among them. And they were quite specific, numbered about 50 they prayed that God the Father would bring into His Kingdom 300 more new people through their congregation.

And they prayed and prayed fervently. What do you think what happened? No… they didn’t miraculously get 300 new people. But in two years they have grown to almost 200 members. And, sure, it’s not Australia, it’s Nepal. But still, how did this happen?

Something that Luther said explains it: “Pray like on your own you couldn’t do anything. Do like there was no God to help you.” This is roughly what they did. They prayed fervently, but they also encourage every member to choose five people from among their relatives and friends who hadn’t experienced the grace of God and the divine fellowship with the Father and Jesus Christ.

Then they prayed for opportunities to witness them about this gracious God so that the Reign of God would enter their lives as well. Sounds familiar? We have been speaking about this for a few years now. The entire LCA has.

By God’s grace even more has happened. Many of you have been praying for your loved ones. Many of you have been blessed with opportunities to witness about Jesus. Many of you have become deliberate about this.

Many of you have experienced the joy that comes when we try to proclaim the Gospel, and the challenges that may accompany our witness. The Spirit of God is working among us and when He sees that the time is right, He may choose to use us more than we expect. The Kingdom of God is among us.

I am only a child when it comes to prayer. I am only learning to trust my Lord and my God. But from time to time, and perhaps it is more often than we realize, He answers our prayers in a way that surprises us.

Yes, sure, we said our prayers… but who would have thought that they will be heard and answered! But they are. Don’t lose your heart! Pray always! The Kingdom of God is among us. Our God hasn’t taken break, He hasn’t given up on His beloved in this beautiful land, He hasn’t given up on your loved ones and on your neighbors. And He never will, and neither should we.

Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to help us to pray as if on our own we couldn’t do anything. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to enable us to act as if there was no God. And then let us be ready to be surprised by how our Father may choose to respond.

Amen.

 

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